sometime around midnight | bruce + maria


          It’s not manhandling, per say, but Bruce does take a few liberties with the placement of his hand against her back, slipped around and down as she follows his initial guidance. Cushions his arm against the span of it; it’s chilly and he thinks about offering his jacket but it seems a moot point when they’re about to get into the car anyway.

He hadn’t intended his question to sound patronizing, but he feels he might’ve missed the mark when he hears the impatience in her voice.   “That’s good,” he says mildly, making sure it’s not pleased and that it’s definitely not surprised. “I think Tony would have a field day if I took you to the mansion.” Much too explaining, and it’s not an event he’s ready to relive right now. 

       And he bites his tongue against the need to caution her to ‘be careful’, waiting until she’s seated before sliding in after her. The address he memorizes for his own purposes ( in case something like this happens again, really ). 

                   “I know,” he acknowledges with a soft smile, reaching out to cover her hand briefly, fingers lining up neatly along the top of her hand, ready to drift away at a moments notice. Her tease is met with a level response that isn’t:   “But I don’t need one.” 

Not for this – not for something he should do, feels good for doing. Not for something that might realign some cosmic karma in his favour – not when he wants to do it, and he doesn’t acknowledge whether the rest of the excuses are just there to cover up that singular one. Typically he doesn’t have the luxury to do what he wants, and dressing it up makes it feel less like tempting fate. 

      It wasn’t a test, or anything like that. Maria doesn’t play that way– at least not in this scenario. There’s relief in her exhale, even if she doesn’t feel like it’s necessary, gratitude in the curve of her mouth. Another deep breath, she rotates her wrist so that curled fingers brush the underside of his palm. The gesture is obscured by shadows thrown off of her bent knee, hiding it from the view of the front seat, should their driver even think ( or care ) to look. Medicated or not, his previous statement resonates, twinges at the base of her skull where the potential for anxiety comes into play.

                  “Don’t take me there.”

She’s lucid enough to know that he’s not- that they’re not, because she’s already given out the address of the apartment she’s using. 

                   “I can’t deal with Stark right now.” Especially not now. But she’s joking- they’re joking, right? Maria lets out a huffing breath that can stand in for laughter. “I can barely deal with me right now.” Quieter, off the record ( and maybe she doesn’t want the driver to hear ). The top of her spine makes contact with the leather seatback, they drift into traffic and she lets her eyelids slip closed for what feels like a minute- she’s NOT sleeping, because then they’re here. The car is stopping, door open and then closed, back door open and she slides her hand out from beneath his.

The fogginess is starting to settle, but not in a good way. More like a heavy, San Francisco bay, shut down the highway sort of fog. She squints, follows Bruce out of the back of the SUV and thanks the agent for the ride. He seems apprehensive about leaving, there’s something to the shift of his broad-shouldered stance, but his orders ended as soon as she touched her foot to the pavement. The dark-colored vehicle pulls away and she rotates on the spot. Three stair treads to scale to reach the doorway, a pin-code ( 3658 ) to dredge up from the depths of that fog-addled memory to OPEN said door, and another steep flight after that.

      Maria sighs. Brings the heel of her hand up to rub at her temple.

                      “I don’t even know if I have my keys.”


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